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Judge of Probate and Chief Election Officer Richard Dean speaks to a crowd of approximately 20 regarding election law updates and other information to help them be prepared for next year’s elections. Photo by Christa Jennings
By Christa Jennings
Senior Staff Writer
Richard Dean, judge of probate and chief election officer, hosted a 2022 elections preparation and training meeting Tuesday afternoon to help those involved in the process be better prepared and informed leading up to next year’s elections.
The countywide meeting consisted of individuals and elected officials from multiple offices, with many being invited to participate. Those included probate office personnel, the absentee election manager, Board of Registrars’ members, circuit clerk, Sheriff’s Office personnel, revenue commissioner, county administrator, E-911 personnel, mayors, police chiefs, media, and others.
There were 21 individuals in attendance for the meeting and training. Elected officials present, aside from Dean, were Sheriff Michael Howell, Revenue Commissioner Debra Lamberth, Circuit Clerk Anita Spivey, District 4 County Commissioner Ronnie Joiner, Kellyton Mayor Johnny Sharpe, and Rockford Mayor Scott White.
Others attending the training were County Administrator Amy Gilliland, Kellyton Town Clerk Karen Keel, Rockford Police Chief Jamie Hammond, Rockford’s part-time Town Clerk Susan Rogers, Coosa County Republican Party Chair Terry Mitchell, E-911 Director Amanda Rainwater, EMA Director Sheldon Hutcherson, Sheila Thomas and Deputy Franklin Keel with the Sheriff’s Office, Pam Weathers and Beth Stroud with the probate office, and Pinky Reichert and Carla Pressley with the Board of Registrars.
Dean presented the group with a slideshow for the 2022 election orientation and updates. A large portion of the training involved reviewing information from the numerous election law changes, as Dean reviewed new laws passed this year that will impact next year’s elections.
Dean mentioned that it is not about party affiliation, but about complying with the law to make sure they have an honest and fair election. He further stated that last year Alabama was ranked number one regarding elections.
During the presentation, Dean reviewed election day security and the duties and responsibilities of the sheriff and his staff during elections. In reviewing information related to security, he also stated that there is nothing wrong with someone taking people to their polling place or providing a marked sample ballot, although marked sample ballots cannot be left behind in the polling place.
One change Dean noted is that it is now permissible for people to take photographs at the polling place and that an individual can take a photo of his or her own ballot or a photo of them in their polling place. However, individuals may not take photos of anyone else’s ballot or reveal another voter’s ballot “in a manner that would disclose its contents.”
Dean also reviewed information relating to poll watchers and what their rights are, also mentioning that watchers may not serve as poll workers. Additionally, while voters are allowed to wear what they want, he said that poll watchers and workers cannot wear any campaign materials.
In reviewing additional information, Dean also mentioned that voters cannot linger at the polls and are not supposed to hang around the polling place, stating that technically voters only have 4 minutes to spend in the polling place casting their ballot, with an extra minute granted if the location is busy.
Dean stated that the voter list with assigned polling places will be published in the newspaper next year. He mentioned the importance of voters checking that list to ensure its accuracy before heading to the polls to vote.
Dean shared, “Voters should pay special attention to these published voting lists for several reasons. Often precinct boundaries are changed for one reason or another prior to elections, usually to keep all precincts roughly equal in number of voters. Hence, voters who have voted in a particular location for many years may find themselves assigned to an entirely new polling place. Another reason for checking the voters’ list is that the voting locations may vary as the type of election changes.”
Dean also stated that it is critical to have E-911 information such as addresses updated and to keep it up to date. He mentioned that the E-911 addresses need to be updated on drivers licenses and that the systems need to be properly updated, including for the E-911 address files, Board of Registrars for voting purposes and tax addresses.
In reviewing further information, Dean mentioned the importance of having county and municipal boundaries updated in the geographic information system, or GIS, and with E911. He said that if officials suspect boundaries are incorrect then they need to begin looking into it now, including with the probate office, revenue commissioner and Board of Registrars.
He said that they need to ensure the county and municipal boundaries or limits are accurate prior to the elections, adding that the GIS data needs to be corrected if any updates are needed.
When discussing why boundaries are so critical for an election, he explained that the boundaries cause multiple ballot styles at each polling facility and that the voter’s address information determines his or her ballot style. In the 2020 general election, Coosa County had 22 different ballot styles.
He further mentioned that if an individual does not live in that specific district then they cannot vote in that election. He said that the boundaries can especially have a “huge impact” on municipal elections.
Dean added that even if someone voted in certain district or municipal elections for 20 years that if their E-911 address shows they live outside the boundary then they will not be eligible to vote in that election.
Dean also reviewed information relating to provisional voting and other voter information, such as acceptable forms of identification.
Additionally, he mentioned some issues encountered during previous elections. Those included unauthorized persons in the voting facility, such as county elected officials visiting, council members visiting and maintenance personnel “just passing through” frequently; noise; congestion; distractions; proximity of people to the polling place; firearms and weapons; and voting assistance and time limits.
Regarding assistance and time limits, per the Code of Alabama, “Any voter remaining in the voting booth more than four minutes may be asked by a poll official if the voter requires assistance. If the voter does not desire assistance they will be allotted one additional minute. At the end of the additional minute, where voters are waiting in line, the voter will be told it is time to leave. If there is no line, the voter may take any time necessary.”
Regarding weapons, while Alabama is an “open carry” state, state, county and municipal facilities may have policies forbidding firearms or weapons on the premises. Signs indicating that firearms or weapons are not allowed on the premises will be placed outside the main entrance of polling facilities as needed.
Also during the presentation Dean reviewed details relating to polling officials or workers, student interns, seasoned poll workers, voting processes, closing the polls, the administrative calendar, further responsibilities of the sheriff, the canvassing board, numerous election law updates, and penalties for election violations, many of which apply to municipal elections.
One penalty that Dean specifically noted the importance of is that no one can reveal or disclose how anyone else voted.
Upcoming election dates include the statewide primary election on May 24, the primary runoff election on June 21 and the general election on November 8.
Additionally, “Candidates seeking nomination by a party primary must file declaration of candidacy with state party chairman (if seeking federal, state, circuit, district, or legislative office) or county party chairman (if seeking county office)” no later than 5 p.m. January 28.
For more information on upcoming elections, voter information, state district maps, and more, visit www.alabamavotes.gov.